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by Jay Seaver

"Good, old-fashioned raunchy comedy."
4 stars

With the amount of text people deal with on phones, signs, and what have you, it can be hard for those distributing movies in foreign markets to subtitle absolutely everything that may need it, which is why my notes for this movie had a certain character named "Bitch" until about three-quarters of the way through. She's actually named "May", it turns out, part of a group of friends that call each other that and have the group chat on their phones labeled as such, something a person who can read Chinese probably picks up a couple minutes in. It's an affectation that fits right into a Pang Ho-cheung comedy, where he goes for the casually vulgar and gets more than a few big laughs.

May (Gigi Leung Wing-kei) is a police officer walking her beat with some trainees, only to run into onetime friend Isabel (Isabel Chan Yat-ning) - "onetime" because, while she insists she only slept with May's ex-boyfriend after they broke up, why else would Isabel's Wi-fi network already be on his phone? - who says she wouldn't ask for a favor if it weren't to help their friend June (June Lam Siu-ha), whose demanding boss (Isabella Leung) will likely fire her if she discovers that the breast milk she had left in the office refrigerator is gone. This is not something either can help with, nor can their impressively-endowed friend Rosalin (Dada Chan Ching). But maybe Rosalin's former street-music partner "Minibus" (Yanki Din) or gay couple Boris (Tan Han-jin) and Frank (Chui Tien-you) might know someone.

Truth be told, the plot of Missbehavior kind of seems like something that would just be a funny sequence in a raunchy comedy, but maybe not the whole thing. Maybe it's just harder to push boundaries in the same way it once was, but once the film has introduced Boris & Frank teaching a beginner's BDSM class and having it seem cute, the quest for some replacement breast milk plays as a little crazy, but not exactly so far out that the sheer weirdness can carry the movie when a joke doesn't quite work on its own. It seems like it should be about midway through the escalation of how these ladies have things go nuts, rather than the whole thing. Moments that feel like they should be envelope-pushing are just kind of odd, like the script has been in development for a few years only to be left behind by movies like Pang's own Vulgaria.

Fortunately, the folks involved are pros, and have more than shock value up their sleeves. You can see the set-up that's going to lead the ladies searching for the milk, but each individual step is pretty darn funny, with Pang taking a moment or two to skewer workplace sexual politics without getting stuck there (as one can), and just because a gag is no longer edgy doesn't mean people finding themselves in weird or gross situations can't get a laugh. Pang keeps things moving and steps up his game as the film goes on, especially with a couple of great bits that make a jump to an extremely silly place before doing a lot of quality slapstick. The basic theme is stated clearly enough in the opening, but Pang keeps things moving smoothly enough that when he circles back around in the end, it's palm-to-forehead obvious but also the sort of thing that keeps the movie funny rather than overwrought.

It's also carried out by a fun group, one of those Hong Kong movie casts that suggests there are more stars in Hong Kong than there are Cantonese-language movies to cast them in, with Lam Suet popping up as a weird diner owner and Jolane Koo in a couple scenes as an elementary-school teacher. Maybe the film would have been better off with the cast pared down a bit; there's just not enough room for everybody to have a real story arc - or even a running joke - in 88 minutes, to the point where Gigi Leung's May and June Lam both wind up not being around very much. The main three are mixed and matched well, though: Dada Chan especially a good sport, milking both the jokes about Rosalin being oblivious to and well-aware of the guys acting like creeps around her for all their worth, while Isabel Chan is able to swing from fast talk to straight-woman effortlessly. Yanki Din turns out to be a great discovery, though - a Canto-pop singer in what appears be her first major film role, she's upbeat and spirited until Minibus's grudge against Rosalin comes out, adding some spice to the scene.

If I sound a bit less enthusiastic than I should, it's because Pang has become a favorite over the past decade and when he goes for broad comedy, it's usually a bit more go-for-broke than this. This is still very funny, though, and it's nice to see something odd relatively modest ambitions like this imported. It's not a sprawling comedy, and doesn't have ambitions of great meaning. Pang wants to make the audience laugh, happily going for the crude joke as necessary, and generally succeeds.

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originally posted: 02/04/19 10:56:38
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2019 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2019 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

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  31-Jan-2019 (M)

Directed by
  Ho-Cheung Pang

Written by
  Ho-Cheung Pang

  Isabel Chan
  Dada Chan
  Yanki Din
  Gigi Leung
  June Lam

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